State-Agent Immunity – Beyond Authority Exception Requires Violation of Mandatory Duty

Ex parte Dr. Lisa N. Herring and Dr. John C. Lyons, Jr., [Ms. SC-2022-0981, Oct. 27, 2023] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2023). The Court (Cook, J.; Parker, C.J., and Shaw, Wise, Bryan, Sellers, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur) issues a writ of mandamus to the Jefferson Circuit Court directing the court to grant summary judgment to defendants on their State-agent immunity defense.

On March 7, 2018, Michael Barber, a junior at Huffman High School, left the cafeteria through an insecure side door with no metal detector. Barber retrieved and concealed a handgun and re-entered the school through the side door. Barber attempted to go to the field house for his last class of the day but was denied entry. Shortly thereafter, the handgun discharged in the hallway when Barber removed it from his pocket to show another student. As a result, seventeen-year-old Courtlin Arrington was killed. The personal representative of Courtlin’s Estate filed a wrongful death action against then Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, Dr. Lisa N. Herring, and Dr. John C. Lyons, Jr., the principal of Huffman High School. Herring and Lyons moved for summary judgment, asserting State-agent immunity as recognized in Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392 (Ala. 2000).

Plaintiff argued Cranman’s “beyond-authority” exception to State-agent immunity applied because Herring and Lyons “fail[ed] to discharge duties pursuant to detailed rules or regulations” included in one or more of the Birmingham Board of Education’s policy manual, the principal’s job description, the Code of Student Conduct, and by § 16-12-3(a), Ala. Code 1975. Ms. *11. In issuing the writ, the Court holds these documents did not “set forth a sufficiently specific, mandatory duty governing the conduct of the petitioners at issue in this case.” Ms. *12. Accordingly, the court holds the plaintiff failed to meet her burden, and directs the trial court to enter summary judgment for petitioners. Ms. *25.

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